The Kids Are Not All Right

“But to me, the lack of desire to have a child is innate. It exists outside of my control. It is simply who I am and I can take neither credit nor blame for all that it may or may not signify. But the decision to honor that desire, to find a way to be whole on my own terms even if it means facing the judgment, scorn, and even pity of mainstream society, is a victory. It’s a victory I celebrate every day.”

Danielle Henderson, “Save Yourself”
from Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed

I said in my last post that growing up I wanted to be a slew of occupations, but one thing that never wavered was my desire to be a wife and mother. I was raised Southern Baptist, which meant that I was indoctrinated early and often about God’s desire for me to be a “Proverbs 31 Woman,” that “children are a heritage from the Lordthe fruit of the womb a reward.” I was a stubborn advocate for the pro-life movement in high school, and I can honestly say I gave little to no thought to the other sides’ arguments. I had God in my corner; what was there to think about? That was one of the most dangerous things about Christianity for me—the black-&-white of it.

Even after I started drifting away from Christianity, I still thought I wanted a family in the traditional sense. It took a while—as in four or five years—for me to realize I was no longer obligated to have one, that it didn’t make me any less of a woman, any less valuable to society or worthy of a good life and a good love if I chose not to procreate. My womb is still a sacred space even if another human never forms within it; I can still intimately know and be known even if it’s never from the inside out.

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This personal revelation went in full effect early December of last year. It had been building for some time, but one day, I just knew. It was a week or so before Christmas, and I was about to celebrate one year with my live-in boyfriend. We were walking out of Wal-Mart with a cylinder of ornaments and hot cocoa mix when I asked him, “What if I don’t want to have kids?” Earlier that day I had attended the final classes for both my Graduate Fiction Workshop and the memoir class I was auditing, and, oddly enough (or not-so-oddly-enough, I suppose, as our society is rather obsessed with the topic, particularly in regards to women), the subject of childbearing came up in both.

In the fiction workshop the professor told us about a successful writer-friend he’s known since grad school, one who is publishing like a madman and has an enviable job teaching at a well-respected MFA, and how this man and his wife, who is a successful scientist in her own right, decided not to have children so they could both pursue successful careers in their own fields without distraction. This professor of mine went on to say, with a sadness and tinge of remorse still palpable to me, that he would never be as successful a writer or professor as this friend of his because he had chosen to have children instead.

The conversation about motherhood in the memoir class later that afternoon wasn’t quite as impactful, but it kept my wheels turning and a few hours later something clicked: I didn’t want children.

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My boyfriend’s knee-jerk response to the question, “What if I don’t want to have kids?,” was that it was a deal breaker. It was never something we had discussed explicitly, but, rather, a component of life I think he took as a given (perhaps because the idea of children had been tacked on to the end of a few sentences during our year together, and I hadn’t broken down in a fit of tears or raged like a she-hulk at the very mention of them). Of course when he saw how upset this made me—that this thing we had never discussed in-depth, was never disclosed to me as a foundational, non-negotiable aspect of our relationship—he attempted to backtrack. But I’m not one for take-backs, and the damage was done. Not only that, but his “take-back” would deprive him of something he considered vital to his future happiness, just the same as having children would deprive me of the future I have planned.

The fact that we hadn’t talked about this fundamental topic didn’t bode well for our relationship anyway, but we had many other issues and our relationship ended just before New Year’s. The most hurtful part of that Wal-Mart parking lot conversation was not that he had assumed, perhaps for the simple reason that I am a woman, that I would want kids; it was not realizing how lazy we’d been with regards to truly knowing each other’s hopes and desires for the life we chose to share for a time; it was understanding that, in some large part, he wanted me for what my body was able to do for him, and if I denied him that capability, his initial response was that I wasn’t enough for him on my own.

Now, I don’t blame or resent him for wanting children—it is his right to want them just as much as it is my right not to—but that didn’t lessen the sting of inadequacy, of conditional love.

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I started reading a collection of essays edited by Meghan Daum called Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, and it has changed my life; it has fortified me. The essays are beautifully written and curated, and it is beyond brilliant and empowering to read accounts of other writers—people who have achieved what I one day hope to—who are childless by choice. When I read the words of women who describe their voracious appetite for life but their utter disinterest in motherhood, I feel I’m catching a rare glimpse of my future self—a woman I rather like and admire. My greatest fear in regards to this topic, currently, is not unlike what many of the essayists say was their greatest fear when they were twenty- and thirty-somethings: What if children are something I need to be whole? My greatest comfort comes from an essay written by a much older woman who reports, from one of the later decades in life, that she has no regrets, that she has led, and is leading, a full life of passion and adventure. I wish I could thank her for that gift.

6 thoughts on “The Kids Are Not All Right

  1. Hi Brenna! While I certainly cannot speak for your ex, I do thing there could be more to his response and to those of others who want children. You said, “he wanted me for what my body was able to do for him, and if I denied him that capability, his initial response was that I wasn’t enough for him on my own.” I think that would be true it the “he,” whoever that is or happens to be, is only interested in the “product” of procreation, i.e. the child. If a man wants your body for strictly what is able to do and produce for him, then he would take the child and go or focus exclusively on the child. On the other hand, I think that most people who want children and have that as deal-breaker do so because they want not just what your body can do/produce (the child). I think most of those people who want children want what you can do with them (create new life through a child) and what you can share with them because of your union (parenthood, family life, the challenges and adventures that come with those things, and the ability to see a part of yourself and your partner outside of yourselves). While I can certainly understand why you would see your ex’s response as a sign of rejection and conditional love, I don’t think that the desire to procreate is a desire to use the body of the other; at least it shouldn’t be, anyway. I come from the school of thought where the desire to procreate is a desire to give completely of oneself to the other. Under that frame of mind, responses like that of your ex might simply be expressing that the person who wants children is unwilling to be with someone who is not going to openly and willingly receive the gift he/she wants to make and all that comes with it. In my book at least, that is completely fair.

    Just thought I’d chime in with a different point of view 🙂

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  2. You took the words right out of my mouth.

    My boyfriend and I have had several conversations recently (spurred by my parents joking with us and asking for grandbabies to love on, pump full of sugar and hand them back at the end of the day), and we both agreed that right now during this time in our lives, children are not an option. Not now, not within the next 5 years at least. We are forever, and it is mutually felt, but neither of us have the desire to bring children into this world. If anything, if we do decide we want to be parents, I would prefer to adopt instead of pro-create (there are entirely too many children in this world who deserve love, but don’t have it and that absolutely breaks my heart). If you would have asked me 8 years ago, I would have told you that I wanted to be married with at least one child by the time I was 25.

    I’m now almost 28, in the best and most rewarding/fulfilling relationship of my life, somewhat successful in the world of photography, and I’m not forced to finding a babysitter every weekend just so I can adult.

    It’s not a bad way to be.

    Thank you for coming forward and expressing the thoughts many of us have had, but never shared.

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  3. What a beautiful read. I am always amazed that there are still people that think motherhood is for everyone. I hear it a lot. I am a mother. I’m nearly 30 and I have a 2 year old boy. For me motherhood was never in the forefront of my mind or goals however I did know I wanted a child. I knew that I was meant to have a child just like you know you’re not meant to.
    I’m a writer and academic and I also run a small business. I’m busy but motherhood actually helped me become unstuck. And now I’m doing what I love and achieving goals I didn’t think I could. My son helped me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. For me motherhood has been the best thing that could have happened but that is because I knew it was right for me. I know women who have had children because they thought they should rather than because they wanted to and they don’t enjoy it. They find motherhood something to endure instead of enjoy, there is a level of resentment there and I feel terrible for them and their children. If they had been strong enough to know that it wasn’t for them then they would be happier and happiness is really the only important reason we’re on this earth. So I commend you from knowing yourself and honouring yourself. When you follow the path that is right for you (not the one expected of you) you find the kind of joy and light that radiates to those around you.

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  4. I think it takes courage to know what you want and not be afraid to say so. Following your gut can be a scary thing sometimes because it’s not what is happening to the friends around you, there is pressure to follow along, or you’ve been taught that it’s normal. But you are following your own path and I think by doing so, you will find more happiness and fulfillment in your work. Proud of you.

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  5. Pingback: Life is Queer | Brenna Womer

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